Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

February 15, 2021

At Home with Phoebe Bridgers

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Ithaca is worlds away from Los Angeles. The distance is actually about 2,661 miles via (“the” — for us Californians) I-80 E. But, instead of gorges with snow caressed around their curves and students woven in the frost of winter, it is a land of desires and disillusionment where performers wait for post-pandemic days when the decrepit nightclubs nestled on the boulevards won’t just be old haunts. Yet, Los Angeles native Phoebe Bridgers manages to amalgamate these two worlds.

The 26-year-old, who has earned four 2021 Grammy Awards nominations, released her second solo album Punisher in June and launched her label Saddest Factory Records in October. Presented by the Cornell Concert Commission, she performed virtually for students with an opening performance by Chicago singer-songwriter Andrew Belle last night. 

In contrast to her Saturday Night Live performance last weekend, where she was accompanied by her band and her on-stage antics included smashing her guitar into an amp, the virtual performance took place with her sitting in a dark wood-paneled room, described by Bridgers as her “cave.” Clad in her skeleton onesie and accompanied by three acoustic guitars, her music was sad — sad like being haunted by suppressed memories once suffocated into near obsolescence, all met with an indie rock hum delicately wailing from her acoustic guitar. 

Opening the setlist — composed of eight songs spanning across her catalog from her work as a solo artist and with band Boygenius — with song “Kyoto” off her most recent solo album, almost 500 students flooded the Zoom comments section with utter admiration and odd remarks to Bridgers. Minimally addressing students in the lull between songs at the beginning — such as quickly saying how she was going to get the saddest songs out early before playing “Moon Song” — Bridgers grew to speak more about the origins of each subsequent song. 

She later joked about always double fisting oat milk lattes and water, and recounted her weird occurrence with someone wearing Birkenstocks when she visited Cornell’s campus. Throughout the rest of the performance, there would be moments mid-song where she would change her glance from near the neck of her guitar to look at the screen and grin, noting that it was tough to not look at the chat. 

Bridgers opted to play a song from one of her collaborations – Boygenius’ “Me & My Dog” off their 2018 self-titled EP. Joking that she normally screams when she performs that song, she estimated that while 80% of the time she can successfully scream, the other 20% she sounds more like she is yodeling. She told the audience how the next song was not yet released and that she liked trying out new material in performance settings. The caveat was that no one could record (even though recording wasn’t allowed during any part of the performance) because she didn’t want to see lyrics on the internet that weren’t right yet.     

The set closed with songs “I Know the End” and “Motion Sickness” before opening the Q&A session. When students registered online to attend the virtual performance, they were able to ask questions which were later presented to Bridgers by CCC executive board members, Jenn Muson and Miles Greenblatt. The conversation drifted between what Elliot Smith deep cuts she’s been listening to, her changed Instagram username and the ways in which COVID-19 has altered how she collaborates with other artists. She ended the night with telling the audience that she disappointedly was unable to show her dog on screen because her mom was babysitting it in fear that it would yodel while she was performing.   

Despite her growing fame with the Grammy nominations, influx of late-night television performances and front-cover publications, she’s not going to sell out. There’s no chance. She’ll always be Phoebe. And, students will remember her sitting in her cave, singing sad songs, making blunt remarks and coping with life with dark humor after this intimate performance. 

Ashley Ramynke is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at aer285@cornell.edu.